Receiving adequate health care during pregnancy is basic human right women across the world are deprived of every day. In the U.S., more than two women die every day from pregnancy and childbirth complications with half of these deaths preventable with health care, according to Amnesty International.
Two local women would like to see improved health care for pregnant women in rural areas, including the Rim Country. They hope to partner with community organizations to improve services.
Penny Navis-Schmidt and Kezia Zuber have joined up with one of the world’s largest grassroots human rights organizations, Amnesty International, to protect and promote human rights.
Navis-Schmidt and Zuber plan to further letter-writing campaigns and work with local shelters and health care providers to erase maternal mortality and domestic violence.
Both women say it is easy to take basic human rights for granted when you have always had them, but for many people around the world and country, access to adequate and regular health care, food and shelter is nonexistent.
Navis-Schmidt and Zuber will host the first meeting for Payson’s chapter of Amnesty International from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., Monday, Aug. 2, at the Payson Public Library.
Navis-Schmidt, a licensed social worker, and Zuber, a special education teacher at Payson High School, say the group is open to anyone, regardless of their political beliefs, age or interest.
“We are non-political and non-partisan,” Navis-Schmidt said. “We are just about human rights. It always comes back to basic human rights.”
The Payson chapter will focus on local and worldwide human rights efforts, including the right to health care for everyone, Zuber said. As a teacher, Zuber said she has seen plenty of students who do not receive adequate health care.
The group will also work with local shelters and medical groups to reduce maternal mortality and domestic violence.
“It is about education and then action,” Navis-Schmidt said.
“We hope to provide a place for people who care about human rights to come together.”
According to Amnesty International, half a million women that die each year of pregnancy-related complications could have survived with proper medical care.
Navis-Schmidt said it is astounding that so many women die from pregnancy related complications, given that the U.S. spends more on health care than any other country.
How do Navis-Schmidt and Zuber plan to make a difference? Locally, they plan to work with New Beginnings and the Time Out Shelter through education and outreach. Several months ago, Navis-Schmidt worked with women in a local shelter to create worry dolls.
Since 2009, Amnesty International has collected worry dolls, which are handmade from popsicle sticks and yarn. Amnesty International delivers the dolls to members of the U.S. Senate, demanding the ratification of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.
Navis-Schmidt said it was powerful to work with women of domestic violence. One woman told her she was making a worry doll with big, beady eyes so the politician that received it would know she was watching him and demanding justice and basic human rights that every woman is entitled to.
Besides women’s rights, the Payson chapter plans to work with Amnesty International to support legislation that guarantees heath care to all, without discrimination.
Volunteers primarily write letters to support these causes. Since Amnesty International started 50 years ago, letter writing has been the organization’s main tool.
Amnesty International actually started after British lawyer Peter Benenson read that two Portuguese students had been sentenced to seven years in jail after toasting freedom. Benenson wrote his own article and asked readers to write letters demanding their release from jail.
After a year, letter-writing groups had formed all over the world and an organization was born. By 1977, Amnesty International had won the Nobel Peace Prize for its work.
“It all started with people trying to make a difference and they did it with letter writing,” Navis-Schmidt said. “They have made huge, significant social change.”
Through letter writing and campaigns, more than 40,000 political prisoners have been released worldwide.
“Because of its history of success with campaigns, they have a lot of weight behind their name,” Zuber said.
At the Payson chapter monthly meeting, volunteers will be asked to make worry dolls and write and sign letters.
Navis-Schmidt and Zuber are open to any ideas or issues volunteers feel passionate about.
“This is an opportunity for like minded people to get together,” Navis-Schmidt said. “We can give support to a lot of different groups in town.”
Although Navis-Schmidt and Zuber are passionate about women’s and children’s rights, if members have other issues, they welcome their suggestions.
In addition, a volunteer’s level of participation is up to them. If they do not have a lot of time to donate, that is all right.
For Navis-Schmidt, social work is a lifelong passion that has been passed through the family. Navis-Schmidt’s daughter, Sara, has worked with Amnesty International for the last 18 months as a field organizer. Navis-Schmidt said her daughter is a third generation social worker.
“It has always been a dream of mine that we would work together,” she said. “It (social work) is in our bones.”
For more information, e-mail Payson Amnesty@gmail.com or call Sara Schmidt at (415) 288-1800.